Friday, June 12, 2009

One week down...

I'm sure everyone has heard about the Egyptian method of preserving bodies by shoving a red hot poker up a corpse's nose, scrambling the brains, and pulling them back out in a melty mess. My Tunisian education thus far feels pretty similar (Egypt's only one country over, after all...). This week has been outright exhausting. I wake up at about 6:30 to get ready and get to school, which starts at 8:30. We have two two-hour sessions of class, a one-hour dialect lesson, and then hours of homework. However, what with the need for lunch in there somewhere and at least a little bit of down time, plus all of the activities we've had planned in the evenings, I never finish. I inevitably get home around 9, help set up for/clean up dinner, eat, and talk with the family, and by then it's about 10:30 and I have an hour or so to do what work I have the energy left for and get to bed.

We had our first test today, which I totally bombed (due to the time limit and not my Arabic ability). I'm not too concerned--I'm not getting graded after all. I feel pretty good about my progress thus far, regardless of testing. I can now read and write every letter, although I still have problems spelling, obviously, and I read at the pace of an electric company video from Sesame Street (Cuh----Aaaah----Tuhhh....Cuh--Aah--Tuh....CuhAhTuh....CAT!). I can also introduce myself, talk about my family, count money, order food, ask about the bathroom...pretty much do anything I would absolutely NEED to do. I'm also beginning to pick up words here and there in the conversation at home, which makes me sound rather like an idiot when I suddenly interject during dinner to parrot back the words I know (table! chicken! She doesn't want!). My host parents react as encouragingly as real parents would, smiling and repeating it back to me along with a string of other words I don't understand. Lina's five-year-old intellect has finally wrapped itself around the idea that my muteness is due to incomprehension, and she is now on a mission to correct everything I say, not that her choice of vocabulary is always helpful (she spent five minutes last night trying to get me to say something like Gahr-Gah Bool Zed...which turned out to be Dragon Ball Z, her favorite TV show). Asking her "shoowa hedda" (what's this) also has mixed results...I asked about a Tunisian flag and she said "aller aller!" (French for "let's go, let's go") and then started singing a Tunisian futbol chant. Ma'lesh. (Oh well).

Arabic itself is as fascinating as it is frustrating. I'm looking forward to next week, when we will progress beyond the alphabet and learn more about conjugating verbs and such. Not being able to string together sentences is killing me, as it's always the creative and structural aspects and actual conversation that I'm good at, not the memorization. As per usual, though, I'm still able to find ways to amuse myself, whether by the semi-orgasmic noises that emerge when a room full of students is practicing their "Huhhhh" (mine's getting pretty good, by the way), the fact that "sup?" translates into Tunisian as "penis," or that the Tunisian word for 15 is "mustache."

On the homefront: things are better, slightly. Kate and I are getting better about establishing our boundaries with Lina, and since we've been getting home around 9 we don't spend a whole lot of time with the family. Mustafa's brought up politics a few more times--apparently it's not just America and the Jews he hates, but also the French, the Chinese, the British... I slowly but insistently counter his opinions with "actually"s (actually, in America I have Chinese friends and....actually, I lived in Britain for a semester and...) Even if he's intolerant, he's at least giving me a little space to express myself--I just need to watch what I say, and not be the one to bring things up. On the other hand, I had a perfectly lovely (and long) conversation with Lubna last night about Islam--she was surprised to find out how much I new about her religion, and also surprised to find out that a lot of the Quaranic stories are also in the Bible and Torah. I'd love to pick her brain a little more...she's such a puzzle in my mind (educated and intelligent, but submissive, modern, but religiously traditional). I'm really looking forward to seeing where this friendship goes.

We leave at 8am tomorrow for our first weekend excursion to the Sahel--a central region on the coast. I'll check in again next week with pictures and a summary of how it goes!

1 comment:

  1. wow, fifteen tunesian penises would be really confusing then... Hope the brain recovers over the weekend!